Previously unseen CCTV footage and audio from The Project’s Brittany Higgins interview has raised controversy, prompting a defamation lawsuit against Channel 10's Lisa Wilkinson.
Wilkinson had previously suggested off the record to Higgins that friendly Members of Parliament, like current Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek, could help advance the story.
The audio from this exchange was handed over to the criminal court under subpoena but had never been heard by the jury. Currently, Wilkinson and Channel 10 are facing defamation charges by Mr Lehrmann in the Federal Court.
The contentious audio segment was part of a five-hour conversation between Higgins, her partner David Sharaz, Wilkinson, and her producer Angus Llewllyn, leading up to the interview.
It brought into the spotlight the suggestions of obtaining support from politicians like Albanese, referred to as "Albo", and Tanya Plibersek. The option of getting Australian of the Year Grace Tame on board post-airing was also discussed.
When the story broke, Seven interviewer Liam Bartlett noted it as “the worst day of Lehrmann’s life.” The allegations against Lehrmann were first made public by news.com.au in an interview with Higgins, an account that Mr Lehrmann said horrified him.
Recordings aired by Channel 7 also revealed an off the record dialogue between Wilkinson and Higgins, exploring the toxic culture of Parliament House, an issue Higgins was urged to consider carefully and speak out against.
Higgins expressed her concern over the potential for a civil suit, suggesting that she might struggle to win if the onus of proof was "beyond a reasonable doubt".
In a parallel conversation, the former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop was criticised by Wilkinson for failing to challenge the Parliament's culture, leading to a digression about potential allies like Michaelia Cash and Linda Reynolds, despite Higgins expressing they were not friends.
The alleged coaching of Tanya Plibersek came under fire, as she insisted that she was not directed by Higgins or Sharaz about what to ask in Parliament. She stated her interactions with Higgins were based on concern for her welfare and advocating for sexual assault complainants.
Meanwhile, Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce pointed out the need for transparency around the compensation payout to Higgins, as Finance Minister Katy Gallagher’s department was involved in the negotiations.
In a TV special showing the first CCTV of the controversial night, Mr Lehrmann recounted the day the allegations aired as a “dark day”, comparing it to a metaphorical nuclear bomb. He firmly denied raping Brittany Higgins, stating the encounter “simply didn’t happen”.
The allegations came to light when Higgins accused Lehrmann of rape inside the Parliament House office of the then minister Linda Reynolds, back in February 2021. Although the initial reports did not identify him by name, he was publicly named when charged in August 2021.
However, a criminal trial was eventually dismissed due to juror misconduct, and the ACT prosecutor Shane Drumgold later dropped the charge citing concerns over Higgins' mental health.